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Along The Finley: Ozark Mill History

The exact date of construction of a mill at the Ozark Mill site is unknown, but historical facts make it reasonable to assume that it was around 1833. It is often thought that James Kimberling, and his sons James and Joseph, operated a mill at the Finley River site.

A mill in the wilderness of the Ozarks at that time would not be comparative to the historic mills we find still standing today. The Kimberling Mill could have been simply a shack of a building with a single small grindstone. It would have served the family farm needs and perhaps a few of the local farmers.

Prior to 1832, the Delaware tribe and a few others held the rights to lands in what was then the Greene County area. That year yet another treaty was signed with the government and the tribe was sent further west and settlers began the rush to the Ozarks. Greene County had only been formed in 1833 (Christian County was not formed until March 8, 1859), and finally in September of 1835, land sales opened up in Springfield. Prior to that time the early pioneers that lived in the area were squatters and had no rights to the land.

John Hoover negotiated with the Kimberlings for the rights to the land in 1837. Like most mills, the area became a gathering place and in July of 1839 Hoover opened a post office, naming it Hoover’s Mill. Apparently, milling and mail were not the only attractions, as Hoover was fined $20 in November 1842 for selling liquor.

For whatever reason, the growing community around the mill decided to change the name of the post office to Ozark in January 1840. Ozark was a popular choice of townships being laid out within the region in those early years. The Ozarks are popular within the tourist industry today, and in those early days, it is just as likely that the moniker was a calling card for those heading west. The region and other points within Missouri and Arkansas were the new frontier and community leaders were likely to want the pride of being able to say they were in the Ozark Township. The quick move to rename Hoover’s Mill may have been a choice to be the first town to actually be called Ozark. Or perhaps the name of the road running by, the Ozark Mail Trace, came first and the town named after it.

Greene County included an Ozark Township, but oddly, Ozark was within Finley Township. Ozark Township is no longer within Greene County, but can be found in nearby Webster County. Another seven Ozark Townships exist in the Ozarks (if my count is correct). In Missouri they are found in Barry County, Barton County, Lawrence County, Oregon County, Texas County and in Arkansas, found in Polk and Sharp County. A bit of trivia to carry with you is that there is an Ozark Township in Anderson County, Kansas. Another is that there are eleven towns in the United States named Ozark (Oklahoma, Ohio, North Carolina, Mississippi, Michigan, Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois, Alabama and of course, Missouri and Arkansas)

John Hoover passed away in 1845 and left the mill to his son, John Hoover Jr., and a grandson Sylvester Harper. John Jr apparently had little interest in the mill and set his sights on the gold fields of California and sold off his shares. He would return to the local history after the Civil War when he is accused of Grand Larceny. He is later accused as one of the arsonists involved in the burning of the Christian County courthouse in an attempt to destroy the crime records and evidence. That effort was successful as the courthouse and contents were destroyed.

Sylvester was still a minor when he received his share in the mill (born to the daughter of John Sr). Records show a 63-years old William Harper running the mill in 1850 (exact relation unknown). The guardian for Sylvester was successful in selling the youth’s mill shares in 1851. The young man would go on to join the Confederate cavalry in the Civil War and disappear into the southland.

Interestingly, the affairs of young Sylvester had been handled by a Benjamin Hooten, who established a mill at Riverdale on the Finley River around 1840. Benjamin was one of the pioneers to settle in what would later become Stone County and his cousin William Hooten established Hooten Town there.

Hoover’s Mill gained improvements after a Dr. Thomas G. White purchased the property in 1858 and had a new dam constructed. Perhaps only purchased as an investment, White sold the mill that same year to a partnership of William A. Lawing and two brothers, John and Joseph Weaver. Lawing was a millwright and went to work with John, a carpenter, in constructing a more modern mill at the site that ran a sawmill, as well as a flour and grist mill.

The Weaver brothers were sons of John “Jockey” Weaver, a local farmer who raised cattle and horses and ran a local race track for the horses. His died in a trip to Memphis, Tennessee in 1854 and left the sons to their own pursuits in life. And Lawing was married to Angelina, the daughter of Jockey. More trivia: Nicholas A. Inman, for whom Nixa is supposedly named, worked as a blacksmith with John Weaver Jr.

The mill continued to operate during the Civil War even as occupation of Ozark bounced back and forth between Union and Confederate troops. Confederate forces occupied much of southwest Missouri after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861. But two months later, Union forces took back Springfield under the banner of the First Battle of Springfield (also known as Zagyoni’s Charge) and Confederate forces continued to be pushed back with further Union victories in Missouri. The Ozark Mill was again under the Union flag.

Lawing and the Weavers were slave owners but were purported to have supported the Union. Despite Lawing later noting that he served the Home Guard and was taken prisoner on several occasions, no record can be found for his service. Nor any for John Weaver.

Joseph Weaver did serve the Union Army, however. His first enrollment did not occur until December 1, 1862. That would have been four months after Confederate troops attempted to again take over the city of Ozark but failed. John Hornbeak, who later became a Major in the Union Army, signed up to the Federal troops on August 5, 1862…four days after that attack. Hornbeak would live within the Weaver House, just up the hill from the mill and owned by the Weavers and Lawing.

One would have to wonder how much that Confederate ambush might have played in pushing the locals into a Union support. The battle played out within the courthouse and around the streets and homes nearby. These types of skirmishes were numerous in the Ozarks and probably captured the emotions of citizens more than the distant cannons on larger battlefields. As did the bushwhackers (on both sides) that roamed and lived amongst them.

As previously noted, John Hoover Jr returned to the area at the close of the war and was most likely involved in the burning of the courthouse. John Weaver and William Lawing received the contract to rebuild the courthouse. The pair also built a covered bridge over the Finley at the mill site where the Ozark Mail Trace road crossed, then usually called the Ozark Road.

The Weavers eventually sold out their interest of the mill to Lawing, and he in turn would turn over operations to his son in the 1880s. Records show Isaac Brown and a HD Rutter employed to run the mills in 1880.

In November of 1899, the Ozark Mill burned, and a partnership of William Duncan, James Tindle and William Chapman bought the site. Duncan did not remain in the partnership long, as he went on to join up with a competing mill just downstream ran by A.T. Yoachum and Samuel McCracken (think Yocum Silver Dollar folklore and McCracken Road that now runs by the Ozark Mill. And James Tindle…think Tindle Mills of Springfield, Missouri).

After Duncan left the Ozark Mill partnership, Tindle and Chapman began rebuilding the mill. And in 1905, they bought out the competing mill and the two operations were renamed the Ozark Water Mills. Unfortunately, the mill burned again in 1921. Fred and Leonard Hawkins bought the property and once again, the mill was rebuilt. Their father was Alonzo “Lon” Hawkins who had operated several mills in Christian County.

Disaster struck once again in 1939 when the mill burned. Leonard retained ownership and rebuilt again. That mill operated until it closed in 1992 and subsequently sold to Johnny Morris of Bass Pro fame.
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